Tuesday, July 10, 2012

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt. 1

Greetings everyone. Sorry to have been away so long, but I am going through a rough patch on my doctoral dissertation and will post as I can. I think you will really enjoy the following material. No doubt, it contains quite a few sermons waiting to be preached.
The goal of Torrance’s scientific approach to theology is to investigate and to articulate the essential interrelations (i.e., “onto-relations”) embodied in our knowledge of God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. To that end, the mediation of Jesus Christ must be viewed, not in isolation, but within the dynamic field of interrelations that disclose his identity and mission, that is, within the context of his relationship to historical Israel and also within the context of the elemental forms that arise from his consubstantial relation with both God and humanity.
Axiomatic to Torrance’s interactionist, critical realist epistemology is the foundational tenet, grounded in faith in the authenticity of scripture, that God has acted in time and space, not only in the incarnation and the sending of the Spirit, but also in historical dialogue with ancient Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament. God’s historical interaction with Israel is the preparatory background for understanding the mediation of Jesus Christ. Torrance refers to the preparatory background of the mediation of Jesus Christ as the “womb” of the incarnation.
Old Testament Background
The incarnation of Jesus Christ did not occur in a historical or cultural vacuum; rather, the incarnation of the Son of God has a “prehistory” or background, traceable to the early chapters of Scripture, which must be considered if we are to understand the mediation of revelation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 2008:37; cf. 1982:84).
In order to give a theological account of the divine purpose of creation and redemption, as fully revealed in Jesus Christ, Torrance turns to the Book of Genesis in order to develop a “prelude” to Heilsgeschichte (i.e., “salvation history”). As Torrance notes, God made human beings and placed them in an idyllic environment (Gen 2:7ff). As social creatures, male and female “in the unity of man,” created in the image of God, they were made for communion with God and fellowship with one another. The bond of fellowship between them and God, however, was broken by sin, for it is the nature of sin to disrupt and destroy relationship. In lieu of fellowship and communion, they now stood before God in “guilty fear.” Moreover, the man-woman relationship was implicated in the broken relationship with God. The fellowship between man and woman was impaired by guilt and shame, as symbolized in the mutual “hiddenness” of wearing clothes. With the bond of fellowship between them broken, argues Torrance, man and woman were “individualised,” so that each turned inward upon himself or herself.
Comment: Torrance’s insight here is of far-reaching significance. Note that sin has disrupted fellowship or community. If we rightly follow the Cappadocian fathers in asserting that to be a “person” is to be a “person-in-relation,” then Adam and Eve are no longer persons, for sin has disrupted the “communion”” between them and reduced them to isolated “individuals,” cut off from God, from each other, and as we shall see, from the earth. The contemporary western notion of the “individual” is fraught with problems, for it is devoid of the being-constituting (i.e., onto-relational) quality of “community.” Just as God is a community of persons, each distinct from the other yet existing in eternal unity, to be truly human means to live in relationship to God and other. In short, I cannot be truly who I am without you!
In addition, the integrity of the human self was broken in the knowledge of good and evil, creating an intrapsychic rupture between what the person is and what he or she ought to be. Once the “constitutive bond” between God and humanity was broken, notes Torrance, all other relationships suffered irreparable damage. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, their relationship with the environment was impaired, and the way back to Eden was blocked by divine judgement. The man now existed in a state of tension with nature, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow among thorns and thistles, while the woman suffered in childbirth. In addition, broken fellowship with God extended into familial relationships, so that Cain slew his brother Abel (Torrance, 2008:38, 39).
According to Torrance, the theological narrative recorded in the Book of Genesis is not only a story of disrupted relationships and the “atomisation” of humanity, however; it is also the story of human attempts at “re-socialisation,” that is, heroic attempts to mend broken relations and heal the internal rupture that has produced the individualisation of humankind. The story of Babel (Gen 11:1ff) is the story of divided humanity’s attempt to bind itself together again by its own strength and power. But since all human attempts at self-healing involve fallen human nature, they merely provide a new orientation of sin to the broken relationship with God and foster the further disintegration of the self. As Torrance notes, “Mankind is unable to re-socialise itself, unable to heal its internal rupture for that which really makes man man is the bond between man and God” (Torrance, 2008:39).
In addition, Torrance describes a second “prelude” to Heilsgeschichte: that is, the story of God’s personal intervention in the plight of humanity. From the beginning the promise was made that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15), indicating that the solution to humanity’s predicament is the destruction of the power of evil and the recreation of the bond between God and humankind. “But,” as Torrance (2008:39, 40) argues,
if the first creation was the creation of man in the image of God, the recreation is through an act in which God condescends to take on himself the image of man. The whole movement of redemption adumbrated [foreshadowed, sketchily indicated] from the start is a movement of God coming to man in order to restore man to God, of God taking man’s place in order to give man God’s placethe principle of substitution and the principle of incarnation.
As is made clear in the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1ff) and the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen 22:1ff), the movement of redemption is entirely the way of grace. As Torrance (2008:40) argues, there are two ways by which humanity can be reconciled to God. The first is the way of Cain, wherein humanity offers to God the fruits of its own labour. This is “the way of man from man to God”: humanity provides its own offering, its own personal sacrifice.
Comment: The “first way” is the way of “religion,” that is, humanity’s attempt to please or appease God. Human efforts to please God vary as widely as sacrificing maidens in volcanos to ritual forms of penance.
The second is the way of Abel, wherein God provides the offering, the sacrifice of another. In sacrificing an animal to cover or atone for sin, as God did when he clothed Adam and Eve, Abel offered that which God himself had provided. Such is the case with Abraham, who offered his very best to God: his only son. Yet Abraham’s offering was displaced by God, who provided in place of Isaac a lamb for sacrifice. As Torrance notes, “Substitution and free grace are identical.” Cain’s way of approaching God ran counter to grace; his sacrifice was rejected even though it used the gifts provided by God. Abel’s way was accepted because it used God’s gracious provision. Torrance continues:
That adumbration of God’s way of redemption is worked out more fully with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the way in which God comes in pure grace to gather frail humanity into covenant and communion with himself, and even provides for man a covenanted way of response to God’s grace. Man responds by faith, but in faith relies upon a divinely provided way of approach and response to God in the covenant.
The “covenanted way of response” was the sacrificial system of law and liturgy that God unilaterally provided to Israel, so that it could respond to him as covenant partner and come before him forgiven, sanctified, and consecrated in its priestly mission to the world as mediator of revelation and reconciliation. The Old Testament goes on to unfold the way in which God’s reconciling purpose for all humanity began to be worked out in Israel, “in and through whom that purpose began to assume flesh and blood in history” (Torrance, 2008:40).
Comment: The second way of reconciliation is the way of grace, wherein God freely, sovereignly, and graciously provides on our behalf and in our place all that is needed for divine-human reconciliation. This is the way of grace, a way that is diametrically opposed to the way of “religion.”
Torrance, T.F. 1982. Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation. (Forward by K.A. Richardson, 1999). Downers Grove, IL: IVP. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster. 174 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371 pp.

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